A large crowd at Tehran airport greeted an Iranian sport climber who competed without a headscarf at a competition in South Korea, calling her a “heroine”.
Elnaz Rekabi, 33, disobeyed Iran’s strict clothing rules, but she later claimed that her headscarf had “accidentally” fallen off.
Many people doubt the justification she provided in an Instagram post and reiterated in an airport state TV interview, thinking it was fabricated.
Ms Rekabi flew in from South Korea before dawn on Wednesday, where she had been competing at the IFSC Asian Championships.
Her family met her at the airport, where she was hugged and handed several bunches of flowers. She covered her hair with a black baseball cap and hoodie.
State media later broadcast an interview with Ms Rekabi. During the interview, she repeated the explanation she had given in an Instagram post for climbing with her hair uncovered.
“I was suddenly and unexpectedly called on to compete while I was at the women’s locker room,” she said.
“I was busy wearing my shoes, fixing my equipment and forgot to wear my hijab, which I should have worn.”
Iran is gripped by protests against the hijab laws and its clerical leaders. The death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf loosely, sparked the protest. Police claimed she had a heart-attack and refuted claims that she had been struck in the head with a baton.
Iranian women must wear loose clothing and cover their arms and legs and also use headscarf on their hair. In contests overseas where they are formally representing Iran, female athletes must likewise follow the rules.